Media releases & public statements

Council for Civil Liberties elects new President Pauline Wright

NSW Council for Civil Liberties is delighted to announce the election of a new
President, Pauline Wright, only the second woman to lead the organisation since its
inception in 1963. Carolyn Simpson QC, former Justice of the Supreme Court of
NSW, was the first female President, from 1975 to 1979.

Wright said “The civil liberties movement has been my life’s work. I’ve been
engaged with NSW Council for Civil Liberties for most of my adult life and I’m
deeply honoured to have been elected President. It has informed almost every aspect
of my professional career. NSWCCL is an increasingly important organisation and its
work is dear to my heart.”

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NSW CCL supports move to decriminalise abortion in Queensland

On 16 July 2018 the Queensland Labor Government released the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws report. The report made a series of recommendations, including the draft of a bill that would decriminalise abortion in Queensland.

It is currently unlawful to terminate pregnancy in Queensland, due to sections 224 to 226 of the Criminal Code. As noted in the QLRC report, a termination may be “lawful” if it is “necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth) which the continuance of the pregnancy would entail, and in the circumstances not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.” There are currently between 10 000 and 14 000 abortions in Queensland every year. They are mostly performed in the first trimester, with later terminations “comparatively rare”.

Under the current provisions, a person who causes an abortion can be imprisoned for 14 years. A woman who takes something to cause herself a miscarriage can be imprisoned for seven years. Supplying drugs or other instruments used for the purpose of abortion can result in imprisonment for three years.

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Council for Civil Liberties condemns regulations allowing for bans on public gatherings

Statement amended on 26 June: Following media interest, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has responded to criticisms from the NSW Government regarding the breadth of these regulations. CCL appreciates the government’s engagement with our concerns. This statement has been amended to incorporate the Government’s response, which is explained more fully in the final section of this statement. The regulations have also been provided at greater length, to explain other prescribed activities, and to set out penalties stipulated under the regulations.  CCL remains opposed to the regulations in question.

On 1 July, new regulations will come into effect, granting the NSW State Government incredibly wide powers to disperse or ban protests, rallies, and virtually any public gathering across approximately half of all land across the state. CCL strongly opposes these regulations. As is explained in the final section, the NSW Government has responded to our criticisms by arguing that the new regulations are broadly the same as previous regulations. This argument is factually correct, although fines that may be imposed under the new regulations have been increased. However, this does not answer criticism of the merit of the regulations.

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CCL deeply concerned about anti-protest laws, but welcomes aquittal of 'Wollar Three'

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) welcomes the dismissal of anti-protesting law
charges against Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes and Stephanie Luce in Mudgee Local Court on
June 5.

The trio, known as the “Wollar Three”, attended a protest against the expansion of the
Wilpinjong mine in 2017. They blocked a road, and held up a banner. They faced two charges
under the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 2016, of which they were acquitted. They were also
charged with obstructing pedestrians and drivers. Magistrate David Day found them guilty of
obstructing the road, but did not record any convictions against them.

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Review of police counter-terrorism powers missed opportunity to restore civil liberties

On Thursday, June 7, New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced that the government would adopt the recommendations of a review of the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002 by the Department of Justice. The report made 13 recommendations in relation to the legislation.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) notes with concern that the recommendations make little attempt to substantively change the laws, or to otherwise restore civil liberties. There is little attempt to reign in police powers in any meaningful way, which is why CCL opposed these laws in the first place.

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On the use of sniffer dogs, and unacceptably broad police powers of exclusion at Sydney Olympic Park

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the six-month bans handed out to patrons of the Above and Beyond music festival, on the basis of identification by drug sniffer dogs. NSW Police announced before the event that they would exclude patrons, regardless of whether any drugs were found after indications by the drug dogs.

CCL is deeply concerned by these bans. According to the NSW Ombudsman, when drug dogs indicate a person has drugs on them, those dogs are right about a quarter of the time. NSW Police have reportedly ripped up the tickets of people just because they were identified by drug dogs, even when no drugs were found. In effect, the police have declared a willingness to infringe on the rights of people who have done nothing wrong.

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Rail strike 'unlawful'-in whose interest?

On Thursday (25/1/18) the Australian Fair Work Commission found the planned 24 hour strike and a ban on overtime by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union to be 'unlawful'. The decision to take strike action came after a lengthy period of negotiation with the employer in support of a pay and conditions claim, had failed to deliver an acceptable outcome.

Given the disturbing stagnation in workers’ wages in recent years, NSWCCL accepts that the Union's claim is justified and that this dispute will continue until satisfactorily resolved.  Our main civil liberties concern is, however, the apparent broader implication of the judgement. 

On face value-noting that more detailed reasons for the decision are yet to come from the Commission – the terms of the judgement appear to render future lawful strike action relating to major service delivery almost impossible.

The Commission found that the overtime ban and the proposed strike, separately and together, ‘threatens to endanger the welfare of a part of the population’ and ‘the industrial action threatens to cause significant damage to the economy of Sydney – the largest and most economically important city in Australia.’

The Commission’s ban is in force for 6 weeks. Hopefully in that period the Government might be more open to responding fairly to the Union’s claims. Otherwise, it is difficult to see – given the wording of the decision – that any future proposed strike by the union at a later date could be deemed lawful.  (Or overtime ban, given that the actions were deemed separately certain to cause the specified harms).

The right to strike is a fundamental civil liberty and human right. This decision imposes unacceptable restrictions on the right of workers to withhold their labour to negotiate terms and conditions of their employment, without an agreement of just terms between the parties.

If the Fair Work Act allows this finding it should be amended. 

NSWCCL has issued a public statement expressing its concern in relation to this decision.

 


MEDIA RELEASE - Physical Restraints Used Against Aboriginal People

This week, Aboriginal man, Eric Whittaker died in a Sydney hospital while in police custody. As he lay bedridden, he was placed in leg chains by police. This was the scene that greeted Mr Whittaker’s grieving relatives who came to visit their loved one during his final hours. The family were understandably appalled and insulted by this final indignity. The NSW CCL stands united with the family of the deceased in its condemnation of this corporal treatment which is vividly reminiscent of 19th Century colonial policing practice in this country.

The incident follows recent revelations that Aboriginal children were regularly restrained in the Northern Territory’s notorious, Don Dale Juvenile Centre, by the use of chemical injections. Referred to by prison authorities as, the ‘settlement needle’, the use of these restraints against children has been linked to developmental difficulties in children, including poor cognitive and neurological functioning and hormonal imbalances. A further side effect is suicidal ideation. Given existing rates of youth suicide in Aboriginal communities, the use of these chemicals against Aboriginal people, (against their will) is alarming to say the least. The NSW CCL condemns this practice.

Accordingly, the NSWCCL calls on both the NSW Police and the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services to cease these damaging practices of corporal restraint against Aboriginal people immediately.

 

NSW Council for Civil Liberties

4 December 2017

 

Contact:

Stephen Blanks – 0414 448 654 - President

 

NSWCCL Media Release


MEDIA RELEASE - Inquest into the death of Scott Johnson

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the findings of the Coroner into historic and ongoing police attitudes to LGBTIQ hate crimes and calls upon the NSW Police to implement the coronial recommendations wholly and completely. The Coroner today delivered findings from the third inquest into the death of Scott Johnson. 

NSWCCL President Stephan Blanks said "this is a momentous occasion which provides closure for the families and communities that were affected by these poorly investigated crimes".

NSWCCL Vice President Josh Pallas said "recently there have been findings made by this Coronial Inquest and the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse which show that the NSW Police fails specific groups of society which require protection from targeted abuse and violence.”

NSWCCL Vice President Josh Pallas says that he “acknowledges the improvements made by NSW Police on LGBTIQ issues, especially with the establishments of the GLLOs, but these findings show that there is still much more to be done to ensure that LGBTIQ persons feel safe and trust the NSW Police to investigate hate crimes against them.

 

Contacts:

Josh Pallas - 0458 605 281 – Vice President

Stephen Blanks – 0414 448 654 - President

 

NSWCCL Media Release

Coronial Findings - Inquest into the death of Scott Johnson


Civil liberties bodies reject massive facial recognition database

COAG has agreed to the establishment of a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability which will have access to all drivers licences in Australia - as well as visa, passport and citizenship photos. This massive biometric database will be available to state and federal security and law enforcement agencies. The rationale for this very significant increase in the capacity for real time government surveillance of most Australian residents is, of course, to better protect us. 

We want governments to do all that is possible and proportionate to protect us and, as part of that, we support effective coordination between states and the federal agencies. However, NSWCCL fears that this development in mass surveillance capacity will have- over time - significant implications that are not currently appreciated for the nature of our society and the robustness of our democracy.   

We note that our political leaders in their untroubled endorsement of this- and related-  initiatives have blithely dismissed any concerns about the admitted  impact on our privacy or other liberties we have traditionally valued. 

We could take greater comfort in their assurance that they will simultaneously be 'maintaining robust privacy safeguards'if they showed a greater appreciation of, and concern for the associated risks and the likely implications of this increased capacity for state surveillance on citizens. 

At this stage there is little detail as to how this increased surveillance capacity will work and what will be done to protect this massive trove of  our personal  biometric data from hacking or misuse.  

NSWCCL has joined with other civil liberties and privacy organisations to express our deep concern at this new and significant expansion of surveillance capacity. It looks to us like a step too far even in the context of an ongoing terrorist threat. 

Joint media statement 

LibertyVictoria statement 

COAG package.